The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Published: 23 June 2020 by Tor.com Publishing
Zen Cho is an author whose previous work I have enjoyed a lot, but in all honesty, what first drew my attention to this book was not the author or the title, but the beautiful, captivating illustration done by Sija Hong for the cover. Add in that blurb teasing a found family, wuxia fantasy story involving a nun joining up with a group of bandits in order to protect a sacred object but finding herself in a situation far more complicated than she expected and yes, my tbr mountain found itself one book higher.
The plot closely follows what is teased at in the blurb, but of course, not everything is at seems, including this novella. Initially, the expectations created by that description led me slightly astray. I believed heading into this that it would be a fast-paced, action-packed story heavily featuring martial arts, and I hope to warn any readers with similar expectations to not make the same mistake as it can seriously impact your enjoyment of this novella. While it says wuxia right there in the blurb, I have since seen that Zen Cho has said that this does not have much fighting, because it does not actually belong to the wuxia genre, but is more like fanfic for it.
As I wanted to give this story it’s fair due consideration, I put it down for a while to reset my preconceived notions. That proved to helpful, resulting in a different outlook to start with and in turn, a thought-provoking read that I enjoyed more than I would have had I forged ahead with my earlier expectations.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is rather a character-driven story, concerned more with converse than action, focusing heavily on themes of identity, culture, found family and finding oneself. While it very much has wuxia-like moments of martial arts and magic, that is not the focus and these moments are but minimal, rather supplementing the story with a fantastical element that enhances rather than defines.
Overall, Zen Cho has penned a deftly written and enjoyable tale that surprises and is almost subversive in the way it defies expectations, making for a quick read that brings something different to the genre.
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